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counted out

'Massive undercount' feared as Census Bureau reportedly moves to end in-person count early

The coronavirus pandemic has already made it hard to conduct a proper census count. It's reportedly about to get harder.

The Census Bureau is moving to end its in-person interviews on Sept. 30, a month earlier than its previous Oct. 31 deadline, anonymous bureau employees tell NPR. The decision is raising fears among census takers that a "massive undercount" is imminent, especially in communities with low self-response rates.

About 4 in 10 houses still haven't responded to the 2020 Census, which counts every person living in America and is necessary for determining congressional apportionment and the distribution of federal funding. Several Trump administration decisions have already raised fears of an undercount among hard-to-reach populations, namely undocumented people.

In-person, door-to-door interviews are critical for reaching people who haven't responded to the census, and are expected to begin Aug. 11. That would leave barely a month to conduct interviews if those efforts are cut off Sept. 30. "It's going to be impossible to complete the count in time," an area manager who oversees local census offices told NPR. "I'm very fearful we're going to have a massive undercount." It's also unclear if people can self-respond after Sept. 30 even if the door-to-door efforts end; the self-response deadline is also supposed to be Oct. 31.

"We are currently evaluating our operations to enable the Census Bureau to provide this data in the most expeditious manner and when those plans have been finalized we will make an announcement," the bureau said in a statement when NPR inquired about the reported cutoff on Friday.